Luke's Got Cancer

Note: This review is from 2009

Review by Steve Bennett

As yesterday’s funeral of Jade Goody proves, the media go big on cancer, as long as it follows the script. Everyone who contracts it is instantly ‘brave’, just about everything in modern life will give you it, and bald children are just so photogenic, darling.

Luke Ryan has a subtle pop at this sort of tabloid shorthand by reading the cloying copy that surrounded singer Delta Goodrem’s announcement that she had Hodgkin's lymphoma to stereotypically stirring background music of emotive piano and swelling strings.

But he has licence to joke about this, for as the straightforwardly-titled show bluntly states, Ryan, too, has the disease. He was diagnosed 16 months ago, at the age of 22, 11 years after contracting it for the first time.

Comedy’s a broad and sophisticated art form these days, so it would be glib to suggest that a life-threatening tumour is an unlikely subject for stand-up. Ryan treats his experiences as raw material just as any other comic would – with the added advantage, in comedy terms at least, that those experiences are both unusual and extreme. Plus the very fact that the core subject is so dark is exactly why people should joke about it.

And for all he’s gone through, Ryan is an upbeat guy, delivering his stories with a permasmile that defies the seriousness of the material. His is not a bleak gallows sense of humour, but a breezy observational one. He talks about aspects of the disease that aren’t often discussed, such as the sheer amount of vomit produced as a part of the treatment, and finds much of the procedures hilarious – at least in retrospect.

There are sombre moments, of course, which Ryan handles nicely; either by playfully showing us a video of puppies to lighten the mood, or simply letting the realities of his situation – and his honest reactions to them - speak for themselves.

He’s a big fan of analogy which, to be frank, rarely works, especially as for the rest of his set he talks plainly, rather than in euphemism. The central idea of his tumour being like a lascivious, drunken uncle making himself unwelcome at a family Christmas party is particularly heavy-handed.

As a relatively new comic, Ryan isn’t quite equipped to give the show the subtlety or depth that, say, Andre Vincent did in the Edinburgh show following his diagnosis. But Ryan shows there’s humour in a tumour with this surprisingly cheerful show that deftly avoids mawkishness, pity or cliché to sound an optimistic note. I don’t know whether he’s ‘brave’, but he’s certainly funny.

Review date: 1 Apr 2009
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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